With the luxury of a fourth qualifying place now gone, the pressure to perform in the second round heats of the 2017 Con & Annie Kirby Memorial Puppy Stake brought some fascinating tussles throughout last night's action, not only at the front of affairs but in the battle for places among the quarter-finalists with some of the rounds most impressive displays actually coming in defeat.
Only three runners will enter the last 24 with an unbeaten record to defend in the stake after some shock eliminations and last night's results bear a very different complexion from those of Round One as the eight heat winners came from eight different kennels.
Setting the standard on the night and promoting himself to serious outright contention was Graham Holland's Lughill Robbie when impressively taking advantage of a much better draw to land the opener in dominant fashion. Breaking on terms from Trap 1, he again showed smart early pace when defending his inside pitch for a first bend lead before galloping powerfully with slick sectional times in his two length defeat of Boraslino who lost nothing in defeat here and should be labelled a real eye-catcher having been fourth off the second bend. Posting 28.56, the time would not be bettered thereafter.
Three remain unbeaten
The first runner to claim a double in the event was Peter Cronin's Cometwopass as the strapping 80lb early pacer again secured victory on the run to the bend despite only a moderate break from what proved an ideal Trap 1 berth in Heat 2. Hitting the front just before the bend, he would dominate thereafter in a smart 28.68 defeat of Coolavanny Pet. However, the latter left a lasting impression in this heat when overcoming a horrid draw in Trap 6 and in the face of first bend bumping she recovered from fourth place at the top of the back-straight for a daring rails run at the closing bends while displaying all the battling attributes required in an outright Kirby contender. To be beaten just one and a half lengths in a fast heat was a truly laudable effort from Dowling's darling.
The next to claim a Kirby brace was the outright favourite Vancouver Shea when again forcing a Liam Dowling runner to settle for second position in Heat 4. Matching strides with Toocoolforschool on the run to the bend, the Fraser Black favourite was forced to cede a one length advantage entering the back-straight before settling down for a buckle to the line. Ranging alongside the leader at the closing bends, Vancouver Shea claimed a half length victory when just out-staying the game runner-up and although some may be underwhelmed by his 28.75 having gone faster last week, the Kirby favourite displayed a pleasing battling quality here which only adds to his overall credentials.
The trio of back to back winners was completed in Heat 5 when Bentekes Bocko again returned a powerful early paced display after a smart break from Trap 2. Leading to the bend, he again enjoyed a solo passage around Limerick when never seriously threatened in 28.75. Filling the places here were Clonbrien Hero who admirably overcame a treacherous draw in Trap 5 and Allen Tank who again showed powerful pace throughout after another tardy start. Eliminated here was last week's impressive winner Crossfield Kate and she must be labelled the unluckiest runner of the night for having gamely held tough against a big bump at the bend, she had her hind legs clipped on the back-straight while appearing a certain qualifier when second at that point. Stick her on every short-list you have for the remainder of the season!
Chimes warming to task
Defeated last week, our Leger runner-up Native Chimes returned to winning ways in Heat 3 when showing definite signs that he may be approaching top form once again. Led in the early exchanges by the brilliant early paced Rathnasnare Champ, he would track the leader to the back-straight before eating into a near seven length deficit. Impressively drawing away from those behind while reducing the leader's margin to the closing bends, he just managed to wrestle the lead away form the Francis Murray charge close home for a neck verdict in 28.63. His Kirby challenge would appear to be fully back on track now and the runner-up too must take great credit having stayed on much more stoutly than he did when in the same forward position a week previous.
Heat 6 was claimed by Magical Vinny as the inexperienced Pat Guilfoyle runner showed admirable battling qualities throughout. Smart early pace carried him to a narrow lead at the bend before Jaytee Barracuda rushed up on his outside to claim a one length back-straight advantage. The winner however got back up on his inside at the closing bends before out-staying his closest rival to the line while posting a time of 28.97 which was greatly affected by bumping between the principals at the bottom bends. The big casualty here was Hovex Mick who had battled his way to third place in the home-straight before suffering baulking.
The bitches had been out of luck on the night until Heat 7 when Paula Heffernan's Higher Level used her plumb draw on the fence to claim a strong running victory in 28.81. Crucially defending her rails pitch amidst first bend bumping, she would assert form what had been a three way battle for the lead at the top of the back-straight before staying well in a three and a half length verdict over Drive On Tipp. The latter however was hugely impressive in defeat when bumped and crowded at the opening bends before gamely finding a way to qualify late on.
Give a bitch an inch, and she'll take a mile!
With just two bitches through to the quarter-finals on completion of Heat 7, the €5000 prize for the last bitch standing looked set to be a contest between Coolavanny Pet and Higher Level next weekend. However, the closing heat housed three smart ladies who defiantly reminded all that they retained designs on that extra incentive when shutting out the boys and claiming the tri-cast positions for themselves!
20/1 shot Society St Riddle led to the bend when showing exceptional early pace before the ideally drawn Shewhodareswins sneaked a run on the rails to claim second position at the top of the back-straight. This pair would contest the win ahead a battle for third in which Frankies Lady ensure a shut-out for the boys by sweeping across Ballymac Laughil at the third turn. Up front, Shewhodareswins overhauled Society St Riddle when too strong in the home-straight for a two length verdict in 28.83.